It's a pattern that seems to have repeated itself time and time again for the Buffalo Sabres this season - just then they appear to get healthy on defense, another man goes down. The revolving door continued to spin on Saturday, when it was announced that Josh Gorges and Jake McCabe will return to the lineup against the Ottawa Senators while Zach Bogosian is day-to-day with a rib injury.
Taylor Fedun will sit as a healthy scratch to make room in the lineup for the two incoming defensemen, while the left-shooting Justin Falk is expected to play on his off side.
"It's been a battle all year, especially at the blue line," McCabe said. "With saying that, I think guys have done an admirable job with stepping in with [Falk] and [Fedun] and everyone playing more minutes maybe than they're used to or play different roles than they're used to.
"That's been a positive but obviously the health has been a negative. Hopefully, knock on wood, this is the last time we'll have to talk about this for a while."
McCabe has missed the last five games with a shoulder injury he sustained in Montreal on Jan. 21. Gorges' absence has been lengthier, having now missed 12 games since Jan. 7 with a hip injury.
"This sort of one was a difficult one because I didn't know how to deal with it," Gorges said. "Feeling good, feeling good for a while, but talking with the doctors knowing what was going on, the risk of coming back too soon, it just wasn't worth it. I understand that from a medical standpoint but for a player, you never want to hear that. You keep pushing, saying 'I'm ready, I'm ready.'"
"If it was up to Josh, he probably would've sat out 20 hours and not 20 days," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma added.
While it's a bit abnormal for players to rejoin the lineup without first participating in a team practice, the tightness of Buffalo's recent schedule simply hasn't allowed it. Instead, Gorges and McCabe have been participating in battle drills with rehab specialist Dennis Miller, whom both player praised on Saturday.
"He's the best I've seen, that I've worked with, at getting you ready, not just to get back in shape but to get back to play hockey," Gorges said. "The old school mentality of stand on the line and coach with a whistle and a stop watch and say 'go,' and you keep skating and skating and skating, that might get your lungs ready but playing hockey is so much different than straight-line skating back and forth.
"I think Dennis, he does such a great job of not only what I need as a player, but specific to me as a defenseman. He factors in all these different things so he gets you ready so when you're back you're ready to step right back in again."
Both Gorges and McCabe step into the lineup with a strong sense of the team's current predicament, and both said it will take a "playoff approach" for the team to climb up the standings. The Sabres are winless in their last three games coming off a 2-1 overtime loss to New York on Thursday.
As Gorges put, every shift can be the difference in a game, and every game can be the difference for the Sabres from here on out.
"The biggest thing moving forward is to know the importance of every game," he said. "You look at the standings, there's a clump of teams that are all fighting for the same spot. Every night, two teams are playing each other that are fighting for that same spot so every night there's one team getting points. We're one of those teams that's fighting for it so realistically every game, it's a do-or-die mentality, it's a playoff atmosphere for us from here on out."
Robin Lehner will start in net against his former team. The game will mark the fourth of five meetings between the Sabres and Senators this season, with Buffalo holding a 2-0-1 record against their Atlantic Division rival through the first three.
Coverage on Saturday begins at 6:30 p.m. with the Tops Pregame Show on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops between the Sabres and Senators at 7 p.m.
Bailey recalled with Carrier out
The Sabres recalled forward Justin Bailey to step into the lineup in place of William Carrier, who Bylsma said will miss time with a knee injury. Cal O'Reilly has been reassigned to Rochester in a corresponding move.
Video: BYLSMA: Pregame Interview
Bailey has scored 19 goals and 10 assists in 39 games for Rochester this season. He's coming off of a seven-game goal-scoring streak that concluded on Jan. 22, the longest such streak in the AHL this season.
In nine games with Buffalo this season, Bailey has averaged 9:41 of ice time and scored one goal.
"Watching his game sin Rochester - the last few - it's six, seven, eight times a game with his speed and his ability to put pressure on teams with that speed he's a force," Bylsma said. "He's turned it into a lot of goals. Every game, shootout, every All-Star Game, every 3-on-3, he's scoring goals. That's something we hope to add with him coming to us today."
26 Matt Moulson - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
82 Marcus Foligno - 15 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
9 Evander Kane - 28 Zemgus Girgensons - 12 Brian Gionta
63 Tyler Ennis - 44 Nicolas Deslauriers - 56 Justin Bailey
77 Dmitry Kulikov - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
29 Jake McCabe - 6 Cody Franson
4 Josh Gorges - 41 Justin Falk
40 Robin Lehner
31 Anders Nilsson